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HOW TO
AVOID IDENTITY THEFT & CREDIT CARD FRAUD

October 10, 2009


PART 2
At Home - Avoid Identity Theft by Being Proactive
See also:
          PART 1 - Online Security- How Best to Avoid Identity Theft while Online
and     PART 3 - What to Do If Your Identity Has Been Stolen?

1) Shred anything with your name and address on it.   Did you know that people can and do go through your garbage - and that they can steal your identity with nothing more than your name and address? It's true - and so one of the easiest ways to avoid identity theft is to shred every item of trash that has your name and address on it. Bills, receipts, magazine covers. etc. If in doubt - shred it.

2) Check your credit report regularly.  You should check your credit report and FICO score at least once each year to make sure there are no surprises on it. There are a number of credit reporting services available online.  I, myself, use a credit monitoring service instead - as described in the next item.

3) Sign up for credit monitoring.   A better alternative than simply checking your credit report and score once in a while is to subscribe to one of the credit report monitoring services - as they will send you an email alert immediately if anything changes on your credit report. You can also typically setup your own custom alerts with those services - for example, you can have an email alert generated if any charges over $500 occur. There are just three large credit reporting companies, and the one that I have the most experience with is Equifax.

Equifax generates credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies plus they can email you alerts and you can also request a fraud alert or a security freeze through them if you have been compromised.

4) Enroll in a Proactive Identity Theft Protection Service. If you want to maximize your identity theft protection, then in addition to signing up for a credit monitoring service, you might consider signing up for an identity theft protection service.  They actively monitor the internet for your personal identity or credit information, and notify you immediately if they detect anything potentially fraudulent. They also scour criminal networks - and can warn you if they suspect your personal data is being propagated without your consent.

5) Keep a record of every credit card you have, and the phone number.   If your wallet is ever stolen or misplaced, your best bet for minimizing credit card fraud or identity theft is to call every single one of your credit card companies, and cancel the card. Some of the credit reporting companies or identity theft protection companies shown above offer this service.

6) Avoid Using your Mailbox for Outgoing Mail.   I know it sounds crazy - but don't put your outgoing mail in your home mailbox, as it can be stolen. I've had my outbound mail stolen twice - and after the second time, I never leave my outgoing mail in the mailbox overnight. Instead I always simply drop it off at the post office drive-through mailbox - and I do that when I know the mail will be picked up that same day. People steal your mail so they can obtain your name and address - and then apply for credit cards or loans in your name. They can also take a check you have written for a bill, soak in a chemical which causes the pen ink to disappear - then write out the check to themselves for any amount.

7) Check your Social Security benefits every year.   The federal Social Security Administration mails you once each year a statement that shows how much you've made each year that you've worked, and what your expected benefits will be upon retirement. If you are not receiving this statement, then contact them to make sure they have your correct address. And if you see something on that statement that does not look correct - then you should also contact them immediately (because someone else may be using your name and/or social security number). Here is their official website:
                                                      http://www.ssa.gov/

Away from Home - Avoid Identity Theft while on the Go

1) Don't carry your social security card.  Once a criminal has your social security number, he can sell it to others or apply for credit in your name, or commit any one of countless other fraudulent transactions fairly easily ... so the last thing you would ever want to do is carry around anything with you that has your social security number on it. Leave that card at home, preferably in a locked filing cabinet or bank safe deposit box.

2) Don't carry all of your credit cards with you. If you lose your wallet, everything in it is compromised - so by keeping at least one of your credit cards at home in a safe place, you won't find yourself without any plastic. Remember that it can take days or weeks to close out your compromised credit card accounts, and get replacements.

3) Don't put your Social Security Number on your checks. Again - your SSN is the most prized possession for identity thieves so you never want to have it printed on anything ... especially not checks!

4) Pay in Cash. Your credit card number can be stolen by anyone who comes into contact with it. This means that anytime you pay a business with your credit card, you run some risk that an employee or cashier can steal your card account information. Of course, you should not be overly paranoid - just be careful. For example, I recently had the front seat of my vehicle reupholstered - and the shop was in the worst part of town. They are known for doing excellent work - but the office door was wide open and no one was in there when I arrived, and so I thought to myself that this is one bill I will pay in cash.

Avoid Identity Theft while on the Phone

1) Never give out personal or credit information over the phone unless YOU CALLED THEM. Literally anyone can call you - and tell you they are your bank, your finance company, your credit card company, etc. So if someone calls you, and asks you to divulge personal information - your best approach is hang up, then go and pull the 800 number from your last bank or credit card statement, and then you call them and find out what is going on. Better to be safe versus sorry later!

2) Beware of imposters who call you with offers that sound too good to be true.   Many scams these days involve calling someone, and telling them they have won a big prize. The catch is that you either first have to send them a check (which they tell you is to cover the taxes), or you have to give them your social security number and/or other very personal information (which they tell you they need because the prize needs to be reported to the IRS as taxable income). Many times our senior citizens fall victim to these kinds of schemes because they are simply too trusting.

NEXT >>> PART 3 - What to Do If Your Identity Has Been Stolen?

Everything contained in this three part article represents an opinion of midlifebachelor.com, and our suggestions to you. The contents of these articles is in no way a guarantee that performing the various actions described will insulate or protect you from identity theft nor credit card fraud. Our purpose is simply to better educate you about different options available to help you with situations like those discussed herein.

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